About half of all North Koreans live in extreme poverty. The country's 24 million people subsist primarily on corn and kimchi; fuel for cooking and heating is scarce. Electric power is sporadic -- homes often have electricity for just a few hours each day. However, neighboring South Korea estimates that North Korea's underground mineral deposits could be worth $6 trillion USD or more.
Unfortunately, North Korea lacks the infrastructure and modern technology necessary to extract the plentiful supply of coal, limestone, magnesite and uranium ore. Billions of dollars worth of gold, zinc, manganese, iron, and copper are also waiting to be tapped, as are rich sources of rare earth metals, which are needed to make semiconductors and smartphones. Furthermore, mining experts have reported that many of the secretive country's mines are flooded or in disrepair.
Some of North Korea's top exports:
- U.N. sanctions against North Korea do not include the export of natural resources, so China has been a regular buyer of anthracite coal from North Korea.
- North Korea has gotten good at building statues. For example, Zimbabwe bought two statues of President Robert Mugabe for $5 million USD. Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia and Germany have also been buyers.
- North Korea is the world leader in manufacturing counterfeit banknotes. The U.S. Secret Service considers the country's fake $100 bills, known as “supernotes,” to be the most sophisticated fake currency in the world.